Wobbly Carmen, Throaty Jose Booed With Director in Paris

Tap for Slideshow
Photographer: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role of "Carmen," in repertory at the Bastille Opera through Dec 29.

Close
Photographer: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role of "Carmen," in repertory at the Bastille Opera through Dec 29. Close

Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role of "Carmen," in repertory at the Bastille Opera through Dec 29.

Photographer: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Nikolai Schukoff as Don Jose and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen in the new production of "Carmen" at the Opera Bastille. Close

Nikolai Schukoff as Don Jose and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen in the new production of "Carmen" at the Opera Bastille.

Photographer: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Nikolai Schukoff as Don Jose and Genia Kuhmeier as Micaela in "Carmen." Close

Nikolai Schukoff as Don Jose and Genia Kuhmeier as Micaela in "Carmen."

Photographer: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Louise Callinan as Mercedes, standing from left, Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen, Olivia Doray as Frasquita and Ludovic Tezier as Escamillo in "Carmen." Close

Louise Callinan as Mercedes, standing from left, Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen, Olivia Doray as Frasquita and... Read More

Catcalls for the director have become almost routine at the Paris opera houses. That the director and the two protagonists are noisily booed, by contrast, is unusual.

Yet that’s what happened on opening night of the new production of “Carmen” at the Bastille Opera. It ended in howls of protest.

There was a time when the Opera-Comique, where “Carmen” premiered in 1875, could perform the work anytime with singers from its own ensemble. Nowadays, the leads have to be imported: Carmen is Italian; Don Jose and Micaela are Austrians. Only Escamillo is French.

Georges Bizet, the composer, took it for granted that the singers were francophone and could easily handle the spoken dialogue. Although the singers at the Bastille Opera, which is more than twice the size of the intimate Opera-Comique, are discreetly miked, you have to look up to the surtitles to understand what they say.

What really matters, of course, is their singing, not their speaking.

Anna Caterina Antonacci took Paris by storm, nine years ago, as an almost unbearably intense Cassandre in the first complete staging of Hector Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” in France. Since then, her voice seems to have lost its oomph.

Cocktail Dress

Her Carmen is little more than an anemic cipher. When she tries to increase the volume, her voice gets wobbly. Her blond wig and her chic black costume, more cocktail dress than workwear, are no help.

Nikolai Schukoff’s Jose has trouble with his top notes. For the climactic B-flat of the Flower Song he resorts to falsetto. Stunned by the boos at the curtain calls, he apologetically pointed at his throat as if to say: “I’m innocent, here’s the culprit.”

Ludovic Tezier, dressed in a garish white outfit a la Elvis Presley, is a solid Escamillo. The best singing comes from Genia Kuhmeier’s radiant Micaela, who had already been the bright spot in Salzburg’s otherwise misguided “Carmen” last summer.

In an interview with the Opera’s house magazine, director Yves Beaunesne had announced that he would shun Spanish folklore and update the story to the period of the Movida, the 1980s when the country rose from the ashes of the Franco regime.

What we get, therefore, is Micaela doing some laps on a bike. The factory girls and smugglers look like revelers at a street party.

Single Set

The backstage facilities of the Bastille Opera are among the most sophisticated in the world. So why are we shortchanged with a single, hangar-like set (Damien Caille-Perret)?

For the public spaces in Act I and IV, it works reasonably well. In Act II and III, however, you have to have a vivid imagination to believe that what you’re seeing is a tavern and a secret path in the mountains.

The finale is even less convincing: Before Jose kills Carmen, he forces a wedding dress on her. After her death, they both assume a pieta-like pose. The crowd to whom Jose addresses his final speech -- “You can arrest me!” -- is nowhere to be seen.

Philippe Jordan conducts with his customary elan though not without some eccentric tempi.

Rating: *.

“Carmen” is in repertory at the Bastille Opera through Dec.29. Information: http://www.operadeparis.fr.

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, George Walden on books and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

To contact the writer on the story: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at uthmann@wanadoo.fr.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.